Category Archives: Uncategorized

The effect of linkspam on man-in-the-moon marigolds (29 March 2014)

Events, fundraisers and such:

Spam!

  • Dinner plans for all: How conference organizers can make newcomers feel welcome | Becky Yoose at The Ada Initiative (March 24): “Take a small group of conference attendees (mix of new and veteran attendees), add a restaurant of their choosing, throw in some planning, and you get a conference social activity that provides a safer, informal environment that anyone can participate in.”
  • Heroines of Cinema: Why Don’t More Women Make Movies? | Matthew Hammett Knott interviews Marian Evans at Indiewire (March 24): a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why we don’t see more women on-screen and behind the camera in our favorite films and what we can do about it
  • ‘Making games is easy. Belonging is hard’: #1ReasonToBe at GDC | Alex Wawro at Gamasutra (March 20): “[Leigh] Alexander says some members of the industry still feel less wanted, less welcome, and less safe than others because of who they are or how they identify themselves.”
  • Wonder Woman writer and artist Phil Jiminez talls to Joseph Phillip Illidge at Comic Book  Resources, Part 1 (March 21) and Part 2 (March 23): “I’ve mentioned in other works that I believe Diana is the ultimate ‘queer’ character — meaning ‘queer’ in its broadest sense — defiantly anti-assimilationist, anti-establishment, boundary breaking. Looking back at the early works of the 1940s, sifting through all the weird stories and strange characters, you can find a pretty progressive character with some pretty thought provoking ideas about sex, sex roles, power, men and women, feminine power, loving submission, sublimating anger, dominance in sexual roles, role playing and the like.”
  • Warning: domestic violence Spyware’s role in domestic violence | Rachel Olding at The Age (March 22): “In a Victorian study last year, 97 per cent of domestic violence workers reported that perpetrators were using mobile technologies to monitor and harass women in domestic situations.” [The study in question seems to be Delanie Woodlock (2013), Technology-facilitated Stalking: Findings and Recommendations from the SmartSafe Project, MSM can't start linking/citing their sources soon enough for this spammer!]
  • Impostoritis: a lifelong, but treatable, condition | Maria Klawe at Slate (March 24)  “I’ve been the first woman to hold my position—head of computer science and dean of science at the University of British Columbia, dean of engineering at Princeton, and now president of Harvey Mudd College. As my career progressed, so did the intensity of my feelings of failure.”
  • The Aquanaut | Megan Garber at The Atlantic (March 13): “The first thing you should know about Sylvia Earle is that she has a LEGO figurine modeled after her. One that has little yellow flippers instead of little yellow feet. “
  • Condolences, You’re Hired! | Bryce Covert at Slate (March 25): “Evidence suggests that women are more likely to get promoted into leadership during particularly dicey times; then, when fortunes go south, the men who helped them get there scatter and the women are left holding the bag. This phenomenon is… known as the glass cliff
  • Mistakes we’ve made | Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock at Hacker School Blog (March 25): Bergson-Shilcock describes ways Hacker School inadvertently deterred or misjudged female candidates and what they’re doing to improve.
  • A few comments on Brendan Eich’s hiring as Mozilla CEO, and his political donations to anti-marriage equality campaigns and candidates:
    • Against Tolerance (March 24) and I know it’s not raining (March 28), both by Tim Chevalier at Dreamwidth: “Apologizing for past wrongs doesn’t undo the past, but it does help rebuild trust and provide assurance that further abuse (or at least not the same kind!) won’t occur in the future. We’ve seen none of that — only tone policing and attempts at creating diversions. The message I take away from reading Brendan’s blog posts is ‘I’ll still try to destroy your family, but I won’t be rude to you to your face. Keep writing code for me!’”
    • Civil rights and CEOs | Alex Bromfield at Medium (March 25): “Eich asks people to put aside this issue because it is unrelated to the work that Mozilla does, but it is related, especially when the chief of HR reports to him.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

When a link and a spam love each other very much (26 March 2014)

A couple of quick announcements to start us off:

  • applications to attend AdaCamp Portland (June 21–22, ally skills track June 23) are open
  • the call for submissions to another issue of Model View Culture is out: the Abuse issue. “This issue explores themes of harassment, microaggression, boundary violation, assault, discrimination and other forms of abuse in the tech community”.

Onto the spam you’re waiting for:

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Quick hit: when non-macho guys are on top of the heap

There’s a discussion around the journalism startups that well-known journalists are involved in, and the extent to which they are yet another set of startups full of white men. (Basically, yes.) Emily Bell wrote Journalism startups aren’t a revolution if they’re filled with all these white men.

I thought readers here would especially enjoy Zeynep Tufekci’s contribution, No, Nate, brogrammers may not be macho, but that’s not all there is to it. An excerpt:

Many tech guys, many young and recently ascendant, think something along these lines: “Wait, we’re not the jocks. We aren’t the people who were jerks. We never pushed anyone into a locker and smashed their face. We’re the people who got teased for being brainy, for not being macho, the ones who never got a look from the popular girls (or boys), the ones who were bullied for our interests in science and math, and… what’s wrong with Dungeons & Dragons, anyway?”

In other words, as Silver puts it, “We’re outsiders, basically.”[…]

[L]ife’s not just high school, and there is not one kind of hierarchy. What happens when formerly excluded groups gain more power, like techies? They don’t just let go of their old forms of cultural capital. Yet they may be blind to how their old ways of identifying and accepting each other are exclusionary to others. They still interpret the world through their sense of status when they were “basically, outsiders.”

Most tech people don’t think of it this way, but the fact that most of them wear jeans all the time is just another example of cultural capital, an arbitrary marker that’s valued in their habitus, both to delineate it and to preserve it. Jeans are arbitrary, as arbitrary as ties[…]

How does that relate to the Silver’s charged defense that his team could not be “bro-y” people? Simple: among the mostly male, smart, geeky groups that most programmers and technical people come from, there is a way of existing that is, yes, often fairly exclusionary to women but not in ways that Silver and his friends recognize as male privilege.

Tufekci’s whole piece is at Medium, come for the Bourdieu, stay for the Dr Seuss!

Is there life on linkspam? (21 March 2014)

  • Reason #140 Why Sexist Bullshit in Academia is Not Okay | Isis the Scientist (March 21): “Professor Righetti is continuing to publish his hilarious graphical abstracts and I suspect it is but a matter of time before we get more titties. He is also on the editorial board of several journals, including the journal with his hilarious graphical abstracts. He’s essentially using his leadership to be a huge creeper.  Worse, the leadership of the journal is letting it happen.”
  • Women-only Calls and Non-Binary Authors | Polenth’s Quill (March 3): “I’ve talked before about the issue of non-binary gender in genre. Specifically that it’s difficult when the only gender or sex identity calls going out are for women. [...] This doesn’t mean woman-only calls are inherently a problem. Much as it’s not a problem when we have race-specific calls or separate calls for different sexualities. The issue is the woman-only calls don’t happen alongside more general calls for marginalised sex and gender identities. It’s assumed that the way to counteract cis man dominance is to provide opportunities for cis women, rather than to provide opportunities for anyone who isn’t a cis man.”
  • How to break games out of the “act like a man” box | Dennis Scimeca on ars technica (March 19): “According to the boys Wiseman polled, strong people didn’t “act like a girl.” Being easily upset, awkward, or having disabilities were also things the boys identified as making someone weak. [...] Empowerment is tied to “high status” traits like those within the “act like a man” box, but it doesn’t have to mean encouraging players to act like assholes.”
  • Why I Was Part of Creating a Thing Called Transtech | Lukas Blakk (March 19): “Last night I helped hold the third local meetup of trans and genderqueer people who are interested in getting together to hack on our projects. This is the third event since the amazing Trans*H4CK  Hackathon (the first one of its kind!) that took place in October 2013.”
  • Debate vs Inquiry and “Reasonable Debate” as a silencing tactic | tigtog on Hoyden about Town (March 18): “[...] latest iteration of the pattern whereby people with uteruses are asked to respond to anti-choice arguments “as if they were just another interesting political topic for discussion and debate – as opposed to the grotesque violation of the right to bodily autonomy that they are”.”
  • Why I Don’t Want My Daughter to Work in Silicon Valley | Sascha Segan on PCmag (March 17): “[...] we’re talking about my daughter, right? I want her to go somewhere she’s valued, not somewhere she’ll have to fight every day against forces trying to grind her down. Yes, that’s what billions of people struggling on this earth do daily, but the goal of civilization is to lessen that particular struggle. I want her to live a life where kindness and understanding are important. And if she chooses tech, fortunately, she’ll have options.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Model View Culture banner

Model View Culture: where tech intersects with social and cultural lenses

If you’ve been following our linkspams recently, you’ve probably noticed the density of links to Model View Culture, an independent media platform covering technology, culture and diversity. MVC has brought us Frances Hocutt’s story of unwillingly leaning out of her science career. Suey Park’s defense of Twitter Feminism and Kate Losse’s exploration of sexualisation and gendered labour as a pervasive force in tech. They’ve also published no less than four Geek Feminism contributors: Ashe Dryden, Leigh Honeywell, Liz Henry and Tim Chevalier, with more to come! If you’re a linkspam lover, you might be following their Blameful Post Mortem (“Everything that’s wrong with the tech industry this week, and who’s to blame”), including the weekly Hacker News fail feature.

I’m excited to see MVC emerge as part of the geek activist landscape, it’s part of the huge changes since 2009, when here at geekfeminism.org we talked about being the site at the time that was willing to use the f-word (“feminist”, although “fuck” complies with our comments policy also) in geekdom. Now we’re part of a crowd.  And MVC is publishing amazing writing.

The founders of MVC are: Amelia Greenhall, product leader, data scientist and user experience designer/developer with extensive experience in feminist community organization and literary publishing; and Shanley Kane, cultural critic, organizer, writer and feminist with over five years of experience working in the technology industry across academic, startup and open source communities. I interviewed Amelia and Shanley about MVC, its publisher Feminist Tech Collective, and their place in geek diversity activism.

What is Model View Culture?

Amelia and Shanley: We are a media company focused on tech, culture and diversity. We publish online issues with original articles, critique, analysis, news, commentary and sometimes political cartoons. They come out every three weeks. In addition, we publish a Quarterly print edition, locally-printed books with new Model View Culture content that gets sent to subscribers four times a year. We’re also working on building a community events program — our next event is in San Francisco for the launch of our first Quarterly. We also want to develop a podcast where we interview technologists, and talk about current events, news and trends. We’ve been pretty busy since we launched two months ago, but that is coming soon.

How do you see MVC as complementing and adding to existing diversity-in-tech projects and activism?

We are just one of many such programs — we identify very strongly particularly with the Bay Area community of technologists focusing on issues around diversity and social justice. We are also increasingly making connections with complementary tech communities and projects around the world, which is very exciting.

Existing organizations and projects like Geek Feminism, Double Union and other feminist hackerspaces, DiversiTech, Lesbians Who Tech, Trans*H4CK, LOL Oakland Maker Space and many independent activists are doing critical work right now across many different axes. We think that a diversity of tactics and focus areas is essential — we need people working within corporate structures and outside of them; on specific communities and across broader groups; in online and in-person spaces. We strive to highlight much of this organization from a media perspective, and provide a platform for the type of thought, analysis and critique that is inherent in it.

What is unique about Model View Culture in terms of its approach?

Our specific focus on producing high quality, critical writing and analysis that comes directly from technologists, activists, artists and writers in the field is fairly unique in the space. From an editorial perspective, we concentrate largely on where tech intersects with various social and cultural lenses — i.e., how feminism relates to quantified self; how social media reflects power dynamics; the politics of digital spaces; the implications of access around hardware hacking; the role of culture in management, etc. Especially compared to mainstream media, we strive to be unique in providing tech coverage that is critical, that is socially and politically conscious, and that is invested in the health and progress of the community.

Does Feminist Technology Collective have any plans or ambitions beyond MVC that you can tell us about?

Right now, Model View Culture is our number one focus. However, we founded Feminist Technology Collective with the goal of building and funding community infrastructure for underserved communities in tech – both creators and consumers. We think there is a huge market – multiple markets – that aren’t being addressed by the mainstream technology industry. That’s a giant opportunity — social, technological and financial — for new kinds of businesses, including ours. So, we hope in the future to grow larger and create other products in those spaces.

What communities and perspectives are underrepresented in MVC at the moment and what plans do you have to include them?

Right now, Model View Culture is fairly focused on the United States tech industry, and it is also fairly Silicon Valley-centric. We are a very small company, so working in a certain context makes sense – we live and work in the Bay Area, but have had writers from many areas of the US as well as a few pieces by authors in Canada, France, and the UK. In the future, perhaps once we get to the point where we can add additional staff, we would love to have more coverage of events, trends, and critique from other areas of the world. As for other perspectives and communities, we always love to hear from our readers about what they would like to see more of and about!

What’s MVC’s biggest success to date?

Our third online issue was focused on the theme “Lean Out,” in response to the pervasive brand and ideology of “Lean In” within the tech industry. We had articles on choosing to quit STEM and how to support people who do leave, on the impact of Lean In on our relationships, on feminist quantified self, and other topics. It was our most successful issue to date – we think that the theme itself really resonated with a lot of people in a time of growing skepticism around the messages that dominant tech culture is telling us about workplace advancement and the progress of underrepresented and marginalized groups in the industry. For example, with over 56% of women in the field leaving the industry due to discrimination and other endemic issues, there’s a lot of questions about why we should be “leaning in” to corporations. We are also proud of the work that just came out in our Mythology issue — our authors really did an exceptional job critiquing myths, tropes and stereotypes within the industry. We learned a great deal from them and it seems the community is learning a lot from them as well!

How do you run Model View Culture from an editorial perspective?

Every few weeks, we announce a new issue theme. Often, we will proactively solicit work based on the theme from people we know are doing amazing things in tech; and we also accept submissions — anyone can email us an idea or pitch. If it’s a fit for us and we have space, it’s a great way to meet, work with and showcase the work of people we haven’t necessarily ever met before. This is important because tech is a huge community and there is no way to know everything that’s going on or that’s relevant. Most of our authors are not professional writers, which is also something unique about our publication. We love how it ends up being much more authentic and approachable than so much writing about tech, and we work closely with authors to help bring their work to fruition. It’s also a core value of our company that we pay our contributors. If people are interested, they are welcome to submit ideas to us.

Model View Culture’s latest online issue is Mythology. If you want to support Model View Culture and its writers and staff, subscription sales for 2014 are now open.

The linkspam is a harsh mistress (19 March 2014)

Super spam today folks!

Kicking off with our traditional can of miscellaneous linkspam:

The Mythology edition of Model View Culture is out, and its entire table of contents is of interest! This spammer couldn’t trim it down!

Look out for an interview with Model View Culture founders Amelia Greenhall and Shanley Kane on Geek Feminism tomorrow!

And finally, Julie Ann Horvath left Github, describing harassment and other inappropriate workplace behaviour. Some coverage and responses include:

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Language for trans-inclusive events?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question submitted out of season!

Is there a Geek Feminism wiki page that has “examples of trans inclusive language” for gender-specific events?

I don’t think we have such a page, and it would be great to have feedback on this issue. The idea is that some organisations want to exclude people who are privileged by their gender without excluding trans women or people who are in other gender minorities. (Of course, this wording of mine is also up for review!) The reasons they have for explicitly making a statement are:

  1. the existence of feminist events that are limited to cis women (or cis women and trans men) leads to uncertainty as to whether trans women are included and may lead to them self-excluding or fearing that they will experience overt hostility at the event
  2. the term “women” is exclusionary of some people who are not men and whom the event is intended for

Here’s some examples of what events and programs have recently used.

AdaCamp San Francisco:

The main track is for significantly female-identified people… We use an inclusive definition of “woman” and “female” and we welcome trans women, genderqueer women, and non-binary people who are significantly female-identified.

Double Union:

all members must identify as women in a way that’s significant to them

The Outreach Program for Women:

The Outreach Program for Women (OPW) helps women (cis and trans) and genderqueer get involved in free and open source software.

What do you think? Do you have alternative suggestions or critiques of these examples?

Comment note: if you’re coming to this from a position of “well I’m cis, and this is new to me; I’m thinking this through from first principles as a fun intellectual exercise!” this comments section is not for you.

If you want to comment on this post but can’t use your name or usual pseudonym for privacy reasons, please see our sensitive comments guidelines for how to do it.

Ally Smells: Boundaries

This is a guest post from Julie Pagano. Julie is a software engineer who likes to focus on the front-end and user experience. When she’s not working at her day job, she focuses on championing diversity in tech and building the Pittsburgh tech community. Julie is also known for her smashing Feminist Hulk impressions and her army of feminist firebees. This post is crossposted to her blog.

This post frankly discusses issues related to boundary violations. It may be difficult to read. I recommend reviewing the content warnings below before deciding to proceed.

Content warnings: boundary violations, predatory behavior, ableism, *ist language, sexual assault, and possibly others

I recently covered a bunch of “bad ally” behaviors. Some of the items on that list are downright awful, and some of them are more akin to the ally equivalent of a “code smell”. They’re not that awful in isolation, but they are often a sign of deeper problems. The more they occur, the worse those problems probably are. I am working on exploring some of these “ally smells” in more detail.

Today I am digging into a pretty sensitive topic: boundaries. This can range from a tiny mistake to an ally smell all the way up to a horrifying predatory situation. In this post, I am going to focus on boundary violations from people who want to be or claim to be allies. Additional discussions of boundary issues are important, but that’s another post for another day.

Do you push or disrespect their boundaries (e.g. continuing a conversation when asked to stop, touching someone without permission)?

Some of the content of this post may make you upset or angry. I strongly recommend giving yourself some time to sit and think on it. If you want to be a good ally, learning to respect boundaries is critical.

Boundaries

Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits.

Boundaries can be small or huge. Seemingly inconsequential or horrifyingly important. They all matter to the people who set them. They all should be respected, when possible**.

It does not matter if a boundary makes sense to you. It does not matter if it seems inconsequential to you. Boundaries are the prerogative of the person who sets them. You do not know that person’s story, and they are not obligated to justify their boundaries to you. That touch that seems insignificant to you may be uncomfortably intimate for someone else. That interaction that is fine with others may trigger someone’s PTSD. You do not know more about someone than they know about themselves. Trust that they know what they are doing when they set a boundary with you, even if you do not understand why.

When someone sets a boundary with you they are saying “no.” No means no. Do not push people on their boundaries or ask for explanations that are not readily given. Doing these things indicates that you do not respect their boundaries. For many people, saying “no” once, setting a boundary, is difficult enough. Do not put them in a position where they must repeatedly do so. No means no the first time. Pushing them on it suggests a hope that you can wear them down, which is problematic at best and predatory at worst. No means no.

** I say “when possible” here because there will be situations where you cannot avoid violating a boundary (e.g. you trip and accidentally touch someone without permission). However this should be the exception, not the rule. Do not use this language to try to rules lawyer your way around respecting boundaries.

Below are some examples of boundaries. All of the items below have happened to myself or people I know (often repeatedly) from people who claimed to be or wanted to be allies. They are not theoreticals. This is not an exhaustive list and should not be treated as such.

Examples: Physical

  • Hugging someone without permission (many people give close friends implicit permission).
  • Touching someone in potentially intimate locations (e.g. small of the back, leg, neck) without permission.
  • Touching someone intimately without permission (many people give their partners implicit permission).
  • Touching someone in a way they have explicitly asked you not to, even if that form of touch is normal for others (e.g. handshakes, hugs).
  • Touching someone in a way that causes them to be visibly or audibly uncomfortable, even if they do not explicitly ask you to stop. (Note: subtle cues may be difficult for some non-neurotypical people to pick up on.)
  • Continuing to touch someone when they have asked you to stop.
  • Invading someone’s personal space. A common case is standing very close to someone (appropriate distance may vary by situation and cultural background).
  • Trying to make someone feel bad for setting a physical boundary with you.

Examples: Language (verbal or in text format)

  • Saying sexually suggestive things to or about someone unless you have a relationship where that is considered appropriate.
  • Speaking to someone in a way they have explicitly asked you not to, even if that type of speech is normal for others (e.g. rape jokes, sexist/racist/ableist/*ist language).
  • Speaking to someone in a way that causes them to be visibly or audibly uncomfortable, even if they do not explicitly ask you to stop. (Note: subtle cues may be difficult for some non-neurotypical people to pick up on.)
  • Continuing to engage with someone on a specific topic when they have asked you to stop.
  • Continuing to engage with someone when they have asked you to cease contact.
  • Asking someone you do not know very well about sensitive or private information (e.g. genitalia, sexual assault). This includes digging for details when they provide some high level information on a sensitive topic.
  • Using slurs directed at a group that person is a member of.
  • Being verbally abusive and/or threating to someone.
  • Bringing up private information about someone, such as where they live. This can easily be perceived as a threat.
  • Disclosing private information about someone without their permission.
  • Trying to make someone feel bad for setting a language boundary with you.

Examples: Third Parties

  • Sending a third party to speak to someone after they have asked you to stop speaking with them.
  • Contacting someone’s friends and acquaintances to try to get them to speak with you when they have asked you to cease direct contact with them.
  • Encouraging third parties to push boundaries someone has set with you.
  • Encouraging third parties to discourage someone from setting boundaries with you.
  • Encouraging third parties to discourage someone from calling out boundaries you have violated.
  • Attempting to discredit someone to others for setting boundaries with you.
  • Trying to get third parties to make someone feel bad for setting a boundary with you.

Examples: Potentially Subtle Boundaries

  • Interrupting a semi-private conversation between people you do not know well, particularly when they are discussing a sensitive topic. This works in person and online. Yes, they are in a public space, but that doesn’t mean you are invited if you don’t have a context with the people involved.
  • Regularly contacting someone who never engages with you. This is common on places like social networks and email. If you contact someone with great regularity and they never (or almost never) respond to you, there is a good chance you are pushing a boundary, and they are trying to ignore you.
  • Fixating on someone who you do not have a close relationship with (e.g. writing blog posts about them without asking first, regularly mentioning them on social media).
  • Asking someone if they’re talking about you when they say something vague. Most of the time, if someone wanted to call you out specifically, they would have done so. Vagueness is usually intentional and pushing someone to be explicit is often pushing a boundary.
  • Complaining about spaces you are not allowed at or attempting to enter those spaces anyway.

Power Dynamics

Power dynamics are a huge part of pushing boundaries. Boundaries are often different when power imbalances are involved. When you have a position of power over someone, it is more difficult for them to set clear boundaries with you or reassert those boundaries when they are crossed for fear of repercussions. If you care about respecting the boundaries of others, it is critical for you to pay attention to and be aware of power dynamics. This is especially critical for you to be sensitive to when you are more likely to be in a position of power. As an ally, there is very likely to be a power differential because you are in a privileged position.

Below are some examples of power dynamics. Some power dynamics are obvious and explicit. Others are less clear. They all are important and matter. Predators often prey on more subtle power dynamics because they are easier to get away with. Take the steps to draw a clear distinction between yourself and them by paying closer attention to these dynamics. This is not an exhaustive list and should not be treated as such.

Note: many of the examples below mention the potential for harm. The power dynamic exists because you could do those things, even if you think it is clear that you would not.

Examples: Work & School

Do you have an explicit position of power over them codified in your work/school relationship?

  • You are their boss, their boss’s boss, or even higher up the chain of command at their job. You directly have the power to punish or fire them.
  • You are a professor, teacher, or other educator and they are a student. You directly have the power to negatively impact their academic/educational achievement and performance.

Do you have a position of power over them related to your work/school relationship?

  • You are their team lead, supervisor, mentor, or something similar at their job. You are not their boss, but you have the ability to negatively impact their work environment. You may be close with their boss (or higher ups) and be able to indirectly impact their chances of being punished or fired.
  • You are a teaching assistant, mentor, or something similar in an academic/educational environment. You cannot directly impact their achievement and performance, but you can negatively impact the environment for them. You may be close with their professor, teacher, or others with more direct power over the student and be able to indirectly impact their academic/educational achievement and performance.

Do you have an implicit position of power over them related to your work/school relationship?

  • You are a colleague, peer, or something similar at their job. Your power over them may come from things like seniority at the workplace, more years of experience, or a social relationship with others in a position of power. You have the ability to indirectly impact their work environment.
  • You are another student or colleague in an academic/educational environment. Your power over them may come from things like higher achievement, seniority in school, or a social relationship with others in a position of power. You have the ability to indirectly impact their academic/educational environment.

Examples: Community

Do you have an explicit position of power?

  • You are a known organizer of a conference, user group, open source project, or other community group. You have the ability to make someone unwelcome at these groups or even explicitly ban them.

Do you have an implicit position of power?

  • You are a speaker at a conference, user group, or other event. You have the ability to use your platform and celebrity to make events uncomfortable or unwelcoming for someone.
  • You are a well known member of a community through work, speaking, open source contributions, or other means. You have the ability to use your celebrity to discredit others or make them uncomfortable.

Examples: Characteristics

Do you have any characteristics that may give you a position of power?

  • Are you much larger and stronger than the other person?
  • Are you a member of a privileged group that has historically oppressed a group the other person is a member of?
  • Are you a member of a group that is in the majority in your work or academic environment while the other person is a member of group that is in the minority?
  • Are you a member of a group that is statistically likely to harm the other person?

Why Is It Important?

You may be asking yourself why are boundaries so critical? Why am I making such a big deal about this? In the opening of this post, I mentioned that boundary violations can range from a tiny mistake to an ally smell all the way up to a horrifying predatory situation. Boundary violations are a big deal, even when they are small, because they are often a sign of things to come. A symptom of something more sinister than an accident. A red flag.

Am I saying that everyone who violates a boundary is a dangerous predator? No, I am not. Definitely not. Plenty of good people I know and trust have made mistakes with boundaries. I have made mistakes with boundaries. Not all people who violate boundaries are predators, but all predators violate boundaries. It is often impossible for the person on the receiving end of the violation to tell the difference and guessing wrong can have dire consequences.

Predators often start with small boundary violations that might seem inconsequential in isolation. Seeing what they can get away with. Slowly escalating. Others have referred to this as The Boiling Frog Principle Of Boundary Violation. This is why even small mistakes can be seen as a red flag, particularly if they happen repeatedly.

There’s a popular post titled Schrödinger’s Rapist that explores some of these interactions.

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Boundary violations are exhausting, especially for people at an increased risk of being targeted by predators. Dealing with these issues regularly means having to be on guard and evaluate safety most of the time. A constant white noise of evaluating risk and hoping your assessment is correct. Mental energy that could be spent elsewhere if boundaries were not regularly being violated. Allies can take on some of that load by being mindful and avoiding boundary violations.

Boundary violations can reduce comfort and access to certain resources and spaces for people. For example, someone may no longer feel comfortable attending events with someone who has violated their boundaries because they are concerned it will continue or escalate. Someone may lose a mentor who can help them professionally because they push boundaries, and it makes them uncomfortable. There can be very real personal and professional consequences of boundary violations.

Steps to Improve

Remember how I said at the beginning that this post may upset you? Your first step here is to sit with this. Give yourself some time to think on it. Maybe read it a few times. Push past the potential upset you have about this information. If you want to be a good ally, you need to work on respecting boundaries. It is ongoing work that is not necessarily easy, but is very important. This is something I try to work on regularly.

First off, recognize that you are going to fuck up. We all do. Take responsibility for your mistakes. See my post about making mistakes for suggestions on how to respond when called out on pushing or violating boundaries.

Be thoughtful. Be empathetic. If a little part of your brain says “this might be inappropriate” or “this might make someone uncomfortable,” err on the side of not doing that thing. Erring on the side of asking explicit permission is usually going to be better than erring on the side of violating someone’s boundaries. It can be awkward to ask if you’re not used to it, but practice makes perfect and people will appreciate the effort.

Be ok with hearing a “no.” Make it easy for people to tell you “no.” When you are told “no,” respect it. If possible, learn to pay attention to more subtle boundary setting from people who may have difficulty explicitly saying a clear “no.” If not possible to pick up on these cues, be clear with people that you need more explicit feedback. If someone’s boundaries are in conflict with your own boundaries, state your boundaries and, if possible, work with them to find a compromise that is amenable to both of you. If it’s not possible for you to respect someone’s stated boundaries, avoid them.

Lastly, if you have a problem with violating boundaries, decrease your access to situations where you are likely to violate them. It is your responsibility to decrease the problem, not of those on the receiving end to try to avoid it. If you find yourself regularly violating boundaries, get help. Consider getting help from a friend with a better understanding of boundaries. If you think it is a serious problem related to mental health concerns (e.g. addiction, social anxiety, being non-neurotypical), consider getting help from a mental health professional. They are trained to assist with these sorts of things and help you work on it. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure. It is committing yourself to improvement, so you do not harm others.

Reflections on linkspamming linkspam (14 March 2014)

  • Female Armor BINGO | Bikini Armor Battle Damage (March 2, 2014): “Feel free to use as a reference to quantify how ridiculous any female armor is. For the record: the game refers to the context of wearing skimpy “armors” for battle (any other context, like cosplay, is excluded)”
  • Female Armor Rhetoric BINGO | Bikini Armor Battle Damage (March 8, 2014): “This card refers to the defenses/apologia that’s used against the critique of skimpy female warrior outfits. I did my best to collect the most pervasive arguments used to justify bikini armors and similar costumes.”
  • Trigger Warnings Trigger Me | Laurie Essig on The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 10, 2014): I’m not sure about the arguments of this article. What do you think? “Trigger warnings began on feminist blogs as a way of warning readers that the content contained material about domestic violence or rape or even disordered eating. According to a young feminist blogger acquaintance of mine, it made sense to give trigger warnings since reading a blog should not cause any damage. But then trigger warnings spread. And spread. A virus of warnings infected blogs, public art, and now classrooms.”
  • Great Reads: Comics with Strong Female Characters. | Sarah Hunter on Booklist Online (Feb 26, 2014): “With the rise of underground comics and the dogged determination of women creating comics, there’s a healthy (and growing!) number of comics and graphic novels that do a great job of depicting strong, well-rounded women and girls. These eight titles in particular—including realistic stories, fantasies, adventures, and one truly great superhero comic—feature heroines perfectly capable of rescuing themselves.”
  • Breaking the Unicorn Law: Stop asking women in open tech/culture about women in open tech/culture | Valerie Aurora on The Ada Initiative (March 10, 2014): “Part of making open tech/culture more welcoming to women is not putting the responsibility for fighting sexism on every woman in these fields, whether or not she has the energy or interest to do so. Giving women an extra job in addition to their work in open tech/culture won’t make it a better environment for them. [...] We think the solution to the Unicorn Law isn’t asking people to stop working to end sexism in open tech/culture. Instead we should stop asking all women to be feminist activists. Here are some ways to do that.”
  • Why Don’t Women Care About Esports? | Yannick LeJacq on Motherboard (Feb 19, 2014): The title is a little misleading – the article points out that there are plenty of women, they just do not tend to make it known that they are women. “Like gaming culture more generally, Weber said that esports still have a reputation as a “boys-only clubhouse.” The major difference between a team of top-tier League or StarCraft players and a standard group of Call of Duty bros, then, is that the former consists of a bunch of teenage boys who are treated like celebrities.” “In general, I think people—fans, players, industry workers—like to view esports as a meritocracy where everyone is on a level playing field and people are recognized purely for their in game ability,” Weber said. “The idea of women in some ways upsets that, but it’s sort of stupid because esports isn’t a meritocracy and there are tons of outside factors that contribute to someone’s status in the grand scheme of things.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Open thread: Flight of the Firebee

This open thread is brought to you by Flight of the Firebee, a two minute film by Julie Pagano. It’s not embeddable, but it’s one click away from you… A transript follows at the end of the post.

Firebee with fireball

About open threads: open threads are for comments on any subject at all, including past posts, things we haven’t posted on, what you’ve been thinking or doing, etc as long as it follows our comment policy. We’re always looking for fluffy, fun, silly, cute or beautiful open thread starters, please post links to Pinboard with the “gffun” tag.

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